This past week was the culmination of a process that started nine years ago when I fell in love with Africa for the first time. It was during a college trip to South Africa in 2000 that I discovered the beauty, needs, and receptiveness of this vast continent. As I was about to graduate from college two years later, I began to make plans for a return trip to Africa. I had met a Pastor from Malawi at a conference who invited me to visit his church and to work with him at training pastors. Having talked to everyone I could about Africa, I kept hearing that their greatest need was for leadership training to help deepen the church. When my plans fell through, however, I took this as a sign that I needed to spend more time preparing for the work that I would one day do in Africa. Although I have been back one time since, this week's pastors' conference in Gulu, Northern Uganda, marked the beginning of my opportunity to fulfill the goal that began nearly a decade ago to help train people for ministry in Africa. I don't presume to know all that is needed to train church leadership in my own culture, much less in another. In many cases the people that I am here to "train" have more ministry experience than I do. What I do know, however, is that if my training can be of use to pastors in Uganda, I am eager to do whatever I can to help. We have come as facilitators to walk alongside them as we learn together. I'm learning to appreciate the complexity of cross-cultural communication as many of the things I say do not seem to make sense to them. Their varying levels of English comprehension, our completely different accents, and contextual references are some of the many factors that contribute to this challenge.
My primary role throughout the conference was to help lead "breakout" sessions. Several of my professors led the main sessions on topics like leadership, interpreting the Bible, and teaching and then I led a group of twenty-seven people in hour-long sessions to clarify and practice what they had learned. The people we worked with welcomed us warmly and received the training with much appreciation. Many commented on their conference surveys that the breakout sessions were one of the most helpful parts of the conference for them. Some of the feedback I received included "…we will never be the same" and "…thank you for sharing this training with us, it will bear fruit many times over." I trust that this will be true and look forward to our next conference that is set to begin here in Kampala tomorrow morning. It is wonderful to be here living out a dream, nearly a decade later!